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Obama Fiddles While Iraq Burns

The president is focused on leaving Iraq, no matter the cost to freedom and security.

obama_frownby Peter Roff

While Iraq burns to the ground – a major international problem – President Barack Obama has occupied his time fiddling with the fringes of U.S. domestic policy. Of recent note are his courageous decision to issue an executive order allowing domestic partners to be buried together at national military cemeteries and trying to push an immigration reform package through Congress by creating a camera-ready crisis on the U.S. border with Mexico that tugs at the heartstrings of every feeling American.

Iraq is serious business, maybe too serious for this administration to handle. No less than Tony Blair – the former British Prime Minister who was Bush’s ally in the war, but Obama’s ally as far as matters of ideology are concerned – says it would be a mistake to blame what is happening now on the way things were left when the current president came to office on an anti-war platform that included bringing the troops home.

Blair is right. The region was generally at peace, with most of al-Qaida and other malefactors having been beaten back by Bush’s surge, which Obama among others opposed because of its potential for widening the conflict. Even at this late date, however, most people who took a position opposite from Bush would be forced by the facts to acknowledge it worked. Now that everything appears to be falling apart, it is Obama who must take the blame.

Consider all the things that have occurred in the Middle East since he became president, much of which we have been led to believe caught him by surprise. The region now is much less stable, with turmoil in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt topping the list. All of the problems that have arisen on Obama’s watch unimpeded, and in some cases aided by American action – and in a few cases passivity – bring to mind the old joke about how the war in Vietnam would widen and things would get much worse if someone in 1964 voted for Goldwater. “Well I voted for Goldwater,” the punch lines goes, “and they were right. Things got worse.”

The same people who blamed Nixon and the Republicans for all the evil that followed the fall of Saigon – rather than placing the blame where it belonged, which was on the post-Watergate Congress that cut off the aid America had promised to the South Vietnamese after all the troops were pulled out – will no doubt rush to put the onus for the possible collapse of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Bush. Their reasoning: If we hadn’t gone to war in the first place, then none of what subsequently happened would have occurred. It’s an interesting idea, but one that doesn’t stand up against the facts.

Right now, the Obama policy seems based on the idea it would be okay for Iran to help Iraq fight off the Syrian-backed guerillas trying to topple the Baghdad government. There have been dumber ideas in the history of man, but not many. Iran is our intractable enemy and has been at war with the United States since the Mullahs came to power in the late seventies. An Iran-Iraq combine would be as dangerous to U.S. national and economic security as the Axis powers were during World War II. (And it’s worth mentioning that one of the reasons the peace has lasted so long after that war was that the United States didn’t pull up stakes and go home.)

In an exclusive interview published Monday on National Review Online, NRO Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer took the matter to Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president and a recognized national security expert in her own right. Cheney has a plan of her own for dealing with the current crisis, which begins with sending in a limited number of U.S. troops to deal with Iraq “to give al-Maliki the intelligence he needs, and planners who can help him plan the military campaign against ISIL, and probably Special Forces to help with training and help commanders of the Iraqi army so they can begin to get folks back on the offense.” And, Hillyer notes, that is exactly what Obama announced he would be doing about 90 minutes after he interviewed Cheney.

Unfortunately the agreement ends there, with Cheney pushing for a more vigorous role for the U.S. “We need limited air strikes and Special Forces on the ground to guide the air strikes. We need to be in there, right now, in fact yesterday, helping to fight and defeat ISIL. Right now, we’ve got to be very focused on how important it is to defeat ISIL,” Cheney told the magazine. “We’ve got to be sure ISIL can’t create an al-Qaeda haven in the heart of the Middle East. It’s critically important that they be defeated now.” Moreover, by helping al-Maliki and making his survival contingent on continued U.S. support, it will keep him out of the clutches of the Iranians, a sensible point that should be obvious to everyone without her having to mention it.

Once the situation stabilizes, the necessary conversations about rebuilding Iraq yet again and making it function as a stable democracy surrounded by a host of Islamic and Arab tyrannies can begin – again. Cheney, both father and daughter, are right when they suggest Obama’s neglect of the real situation in Iraq and his single-minded focus on pulling the U.S. out not matter what the cost is what brought things to where they now are. America invested its time, its money, and its most valuable treasure – the lives and health of young American men and women – in the effort to oust Saddam Hussein from power. Obama has sold short on that investment, seeking domestic political gain. It would be an outrage that will not be quickly forgotten if he now allows Iran to come in and do what the United States never should have stopped doing, which is to guarantee the country’s peace and stability to allow the Iraqi people time to prosper while freedom takes root.

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Peter Roff is a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report. Formerly a senior political writer for United Press International, he’s now affiliated with several public policy organizations including Let Freedom Ring, and Frontiers of Freedom. His writing has appeared in National Review, Fox News’ opinion section, The Daily Caller, Politico and elsewhere.